Western Isles abuse case resonates nationally, says Scottish minister

Scotland’s education minister has vowed lessons will be learned from failings highlighted by last week’s damning inspection report into the abuse of three girls on the Western Isles.

Peter Peacock has given Western Isles Council six weeks to develop an action plan to address weaknesses identified by the Social Work Inspection Agency. He said the case had national implications and that most of the 31 recommendations for improving practice would be acted upon.

The report concludes that council social workers and managers failed to take the children into care quickly enough despite ample evidence to suggest abuse had taken place. It calls decision-making by staff, including health professionals, “seriously flawed”.

No one has been convicted of abusing the children.

Inspectors, who were called in after the collapse of a criminal case against nine people last summer, found 220 indicators of neglect and abuse between 1990 and 2000. The family moved to the Western Isles in 1995 and in 2000 the children were placed in foster care.

The report finds evidence of “severe and prolonged physical and emotional abuse” and likely sexual abuse. One child was found to have been regularly sleeping in a cupboard.

It also says staff focused too much on supporting the family to remain together, were inexperienced in child protection and were more likely to believe adults’ accounts than the children’s.

“It is hard to make sense of how so much professional energy could be devoted to sharing so much information to such little effect,” it states.

Western Isles chief executive Bill Howat said the council had started implementing recommendations in the report, but added: “We accept that there were serious shortcomings in our performance in the case and that is a matter of regret.”

Colin McKenzie, president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, said the case highlighted the need to have “competent, skilled and experienced staff able to challenge colleagues and processes and make difficult decisions”. He called on the executive to create a national resource to disseminate best practice knowledge to rural councils.

The report recommends that councils ensure every school appoints a staff member to record and pass on to social work departments information about a child or their family where there are child protection concerns.

The inspection did not investigate any aspect of the police inquiry. 

  • Report from www.swia.gov.uk
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